Rookies battle for the title of NBA Live Champion
Playing For Keeps

By Brad Friedman

TARRYTOWN, N.Y., Aug. 10 -- Whether it's on the court or on the game screen, this year's incoming crop of NBA players is competitive.

On Wednesday night, the rookie class concluded a long day of posing for pictures and signing memorabilia at the NBA Rookie Photo Shoot by battling in the EA Sports NBA Live 06 Video Game Tournament.

Throughout the festivities, there was plenty of good-natured trash talk between the participants. Among the most vocal rookies was Minnesota guard Rashad McCants, who let out roars and grunts after made baskets. Before squaring off with ex-North Carolina teammate Sean May in the semifinals, he teasingly accused the Bobcats forward of cheating.

"Check Charlotte’s ratings," McCants said. "He (May) isn’t that good. He’s been shooting threes with himself!"

These rookies play hard on and off the court.
Brad Friedman/NBAE
May went 0-for-11 from behind the arc during his UNC career, and earlier in the day complained to a writer that NBA Live "won't let me hit anything outside of five feet." However, he ended McCants' tournament hopes in the semifinals, a bit of a surprise considering McCants' dominating performance in the first round over C.J. Miles, who Raptors rookie Charlie Villanueva picked to win the tournament.

"He's throwing up prayers, ladies and gentleman," McCants, doing his best impression of a television commentator, bellowed during the 19-10 blowout.

Knicks rookie Nate Robinson followed suit in Orlando guard Travis Diener's 17-3 quarterfinal shellacking of Clippers rookie Daniel Ewing, interviewing the ex-Duke star mid-contest for NBA TV cameras while using his fist as an imaginary microphone. Diener on the other hand didn’t have a word to say -- he simply turned to his peers and gave a big grin as the scoreboard came on-screen.

Diener remained quiet following the semifinals, too. After leading all game, he let eventual champ Julius Hodge pull out in front of him at the 1:14 minute mark, a moment which the winner celebrated by giving the loser a slap on his derriere.

"You lost," repeatedly chastised Golden State Monta Ellis in the background, still bitter about his defeat to Diener in the first round. "How does it feel to get hustled?"

Ellis' failure to advance may have been partly a result of an injury to Steve Nash in the Suns' 25-20 loss. Throughout the match, unknowing spectators continually asked Ellis, "Why do you have (Leandro) Barbosa in the game?"

TO BE OR NOT TO BE...

You'd figure that the rookies would play with their real life teams in the tournament, but that wasn't always the case.

"Portland for what?" Trail Blazers rookie Jarrett Jack said. "I'm trying to win."

New York rookie David Lee had a disgusted look on his face checking out the Knicks' player ratings.

"They gave us the garbage squad," said Lee, who competed with the Knicks anyway and fell to May in the opening round.

"Who really picks the Knicks in video games?" Hodge, a New York native, responded laughing.

In contrast, Boston rookie Gerald Green was decidedly proud to be donning his own team's uniform.

"There should be a rule," he said as he dialed up Celtic green on the game's selection screen. "You have to play with your own team. You know what jersey I got. That's my jersey right there."

Ellis' title hopes were dashed when Nash got injured in Round 1.
Courtesy EA Sports

Maybe picking Boston wasn't such a wise decision. Indiana rookie Danny Granger, who's such an avid Madden gamer that he's even been ranked in the top 800 for that title in online play, defeated Green 26-18 in their first round match. Not a total loss for Green considering he started off the game so poorly that Diener said, "If you don't score in the first two minutes, you should be kicked off the machine."

ROOKIE TRANSITION

With only one PlayStation 2 console available, many of the rookies had to play on an Xbox system they were unfamiliar with. Game controllers differ, and many of the PS2 loyalists struggled.

"Don't write about me," joked Celtics rookie Ryan Gomes to a writer after losing in the first round. "Well, tell them (readers) I would have won if I had a PS2."

Ellis, who earlier in the day proclaimed, "I'll take on anyone on anything," before falling in his opening contest, laughed hysterically at Miles' own first-round exit.

"McCants set me up," Miles said, trying to defend himself. "He was acting like he didn't know how to play Xbox."

Jack was suspicious of the same ploy, saying the self-professed Xbox-ignorant Hakim Warrick was "trying to hustle me," as the pair awaited their match.

"He's going for the tutorial right now."

The player who summed it up best, however, was Granger, who quipped, "Xbox? What's that?"